Choose Privacy: video from the American Library Assoc

Choose Privacy Week Video from 20K Films on Vimeo.

The American Library Association's "Choose Privacy" week kicks off with a ~20 minute video featuring writers and thinkers talking about the value of privacy in simple, accessible, thought-provoking terms. Included are me, Neil Gaiman, and many others. Produced by Laura Zinger and 20K films, it's a really fine little introduction to subject from the towering heroes of the information revolution: the librarians.

Choose Privacy Week Video


  1. I wish my local library was more in line with the ALA. My library requires an active library card or a special ID required visitors log in to view the internet from any of the public terminals. It is almost surprising that they allow people to browse the stacks without similar ID and tracking. Oh, and my library also has RIFD’s in all circulating books. So much for privacy. :-p

    So, I do choose privacy. I choose not to use my library’s on-line computers. I’d love to lobby for change, but any such lobbying will be met with the standard “What are you trying to hide”, “think of the children” and “there is no privacy violation–trust us.” A really up hill battle–even in a small city at the local level.

    Meanwhile, speaking of privacy, BB discourages privacy:

    “Warning: Anonymous messages are held for moderation. This could take a (long) while. Or your comment may not be posted at all. ”

    I understand the reasons why. Modding anon posts is a huge, labor intensive hassle. But it is ironic nonetheless.

    1. Meanwhile, speaking of privacy, BB discourages privacy..

      As far as I’m concerned, anonymous commenting is about convenience (to the casual user), not privacy.

      Registered commenting is not, in any effective way, less private than anonymous commenting. Just like any webservice, IPs are recorded in either case and you can give a fake or disposable email address (without the benefit of regaining lost passwords, communication with mods etc.). As long as you don’t post personally identifiable material, you are equally anonymous either way.

      There is no benefit, other than being able to disown a previous comment, or be disassociated from a set of expressed views. But that is more to do with reputation handling, than anonymity.

      Sometimes regulars sign-out to post something anonymously, that they don’t want associated with their handle, but this is only private on the public facing side. Unless they change IPs (in any of the miriad ways to do so) they are still the same person to us.

    2. Oh, and my library also has RIFD’s in all circulating books.

      You must be from somewhere where the library system has money. This was the “big idea” in the late 90s/early 00s – stick RFIDs into all of your books and it makes locating “lost” books in the stacks a breeze. It was a big idea pushed by library consultants years ago and IIRC most librarians looked at it and said “that’s a nice idea, now how about you try something we can actually afford on our shoestring budget”.

      1. Re RFID’s.

        I don’t know if they actually ever find lost books that way at the library. I know that was a feature touted in favor of RFIDs. However, I think the RFID’s are mostly used for quick check in/out (multiple books all scanned concurrently by proximity) and for the integrated inventory control scanners at the door which scan for books that haven’t been checked out. The library assured everyone that there are no possible privacy issues with RFIDs. :-p

        And @arkizzle / Moderator,
        I expect that your experience and will be somewhat influenced by your role as a moderator and all the manual hassle incurred by “anon” posters.

        Anon 1

    1. My library purges all records of borrowed books once the books have been returned because of Canadian privacy laws. Purging is done either daily or weekly, I don’t remember which. It does require entry of one’s library account number to access the public internet computers.

  2. When I google myself, I find that I am both a successful magician and a not very successful mixed martial arts fighter.

  3. As far as I can tell, privacy as we’ve known it has been very much a 20th century concept — between the establishment of cities too large for everyone to know everyone else’s business (unlike the smaller towns in past centuries) and the establishment of widespread computer-network use and the searchability of the rich online “trails” left thereupon.

    The college students I’ve spoken to recently seem to take for granted that anything they don’t make an active effort to withhold will eventually be broadly available. The days when people behaved significantly differently on camera than off seem to be passing.

    Interestingly, with the loss of privacy we’re also seeing more recognition that everyone has something odd in their history or lifestyle, and that in most situations it really isn’t relevant or even interesting. I view the increasing tolerance of the gay community as one instance of that trend — it’s gone from something that had to be kept private to something that’s pretty much uninteresting unless you’re interested in having a closer relationship with that individual. When the facts aren’t blackmail fodder, privacy becomes considerably less critical.

    Do I think we should all be able to retain a private sphere? Heck yes. But I think it’s going to be smaller than in the past, and in practical terms it’s going to be limited to the things we consider worth making an active effort to protect.

    I don’t _like_ that conclusion. But then, I’m a child of the 20th century. My expectations may simply not be realistic.

    By all means keep fighting the good fight. But… well, look at how many private cameras are being tapped to track down the would-be Times Square bomber. I think we’re going to have to concede, at the very least, that anything which happens in public should have no expectation of privacy — and that we’re going to have to very actively carve out an agreement on what is, and isn’t, “public” rather than trusting that past assumptions will continue to hold.

  4. keep records of the books you borrow!

    Actually the ALA recommendation, specifically in response to the USA PATRIOT Act, is that libraries just keep records of who currently has what checked out.

    The library I work at was mostly in compliance with this policy before it was even stated, simply because of the massive amounts of data that borrowing records represent (last year we had a few million checkouts and we’re just a city of about 100k).

    Aside from who has what currently checked out, we also keep records of who owes what for which materials that were checked out. If you don’t owe anything and don’t have anything checked out, we can’t tell you (or the police, or the FBI, or Barack Obama) anything about what you like to read, watch, listen to, or play on the computer.

  5. This is just rubbish. What goes on the internet tends to stay on the internet. If you don’t want people to know something, don’t go posting it online.

    Google Tylith and you can pretty much figure out my life story, but I chose that.

    1. What goes on the internet tends to stay on the internet. If you don’t want people to know something, don’t go posting it online.

      That’s good advice, but I don’t think most of us really have that much control over what is and what is not online, particularly as “online” increasingly becomes the default nature of records and communications of all kinds.

      If you ever find yourself in court for any reason, for example, there will be (as there should be) public records of that occasion. But those records are increasingly being made available and utterly trivially searchable online. That’s a situation you may not have control over. With paper records, that sort of information would eventually be available to someone who really needed it; with digital records, it’s instantly available to anyone who has the slightest flicker of curiosity. I accidentally stumbled on some facts about a cousin of mine this way, facts he probably didn’t want spread around like that.

      If someone simply takes a dislike to you and posts unflattering (true) stories about, or unflattering photos of you somewhere online, you have no legal recourse or control at all. And as you point out, that will “tend to stay on the internet.” Forever.

      You can even be an innocent victim of random circumstance. This person has become pseudo-famous in a decidedly undesirable way. There’s no indication that it was through any choice of his own.

  6. “As far as I’m concerned, anonymous commenting is about convenience (to the casual user), not privacy. “

    Well, privacy is a complex issue and it operates on many levels. On the basic public level, tying all of ones BB comments to one user account can make for a reputation, but a reputation is, to a degree, also a potential loss of privacy, especially since posting to an account creates an aggregate of IP’s all identified with a single user account which makes for a much deeper footprint, which also makes it easier to deanonymize a poster even without IP logs by clues in the aggregate of their posts especially if a person uses the same unique handles the internet

    Are “anon” postings really more private than registered account postings? Not necessarily unless if posters use strict compartmentalization and take extreme measures like blocking all java, scripts, Flash and img tags. But they do reduce IP aggregation to a degree. Is it an illusory degree? Hard for me to know.

    I realize that even my “anon” postings are only semi-anonymous should a determined entity wish to try and ID me, but there are degrees of privacy. But Bruce Schneier talks about privacy being about user control. And in that sense my decision as to whether to post to an account or as AC is a choice that lets me have some control over my internet footprint. So I think it is about privacy, at least to some degree. Whether my belief is justified remains to be seen. Even so, I think the issue of privacy is one that can also have a material “appearance of conflict” at BB even if the actual degree of privacy afforded by anon postings, if any, is difficult to quantify

    1. A tangential annoyance (off topic):

      Should I assume you are the same Anon @1, that I originally replied to? If we get beyond trivialities into a conversation with more than a couple of Anon commenters, how useful is it without the ability to communicate individually to each participant?

      Can meaningful conversations happen without an understanding of the initial and final attitudes of the individuals involved? Have minds changed?

      As far as I my experience goes, Anon is mostly used to inject opinion, lump-sum, and not participate in the conversation (drive-by fashion). I’m know it’s useful in more challenging circumstances, but here it seems to mostly get in the way of good dialogue.

  7. “but here it seems to mostly get in the way of good dialogue”

    Because Anons aren’t automatically numbered and because unregistered pseudonyms are not allowed.

  8. So its kind of weird when you start watching a video, on a big site like BB, and all of a sudden you see your friends! I’m gonna have to bug them about this now.

  9. This was the “big idea” in the late 90s/early 00s – stick RFIDs into all of your books and it makes locating “lost” books in the stacks a breeze.

    If that was the pitch, I’d have to say it’s a pipe dream.

    In my experience with checking things out using RFID, the system has a number of shortcomings.

    If you have several thick books, like maybe 4 Harry Potters, and stack them up then on the RFID pad chances are very good that one or two of them won’t get scanned–they’re too far away.

    Sometimes the tags can’t be read even through a CD or DVD case.

    Sometimes RFID tags consistently can not be read in certain books for no apparent reason whatsoever.

    RFID pads are very slow to read tags, so if the pitch was that you could walk along with a wand taking inventory, it’s must have been testing well under optimal conditions which few libraries will match. I’m imagining rows of books all from the same publisher and of the same material, all the same size, and all in the same orientation, so that the person walking along doesn’t have to move the wand closer and farther away, and closer, and up a bit, and back down, and way up for a book that couldn’t fit in the other way, etc.

    RFID pads tend to develop dead spots on them. Even in the six weeks I worked circ I switched from a) stacking items up and waiting for them to scan to b) taking them, one by one, and swiping them in a semicircle over the pad–it was actually quicker since you would know immediately which item didn’t scan if one didn’t, and the items would almost always scan the first time.

    RFID tags must be spaced out a bit from each other; if you have several tags in the same spot on top of each other, they will not all read.

    I’m not sure if the signal strength is from the tag’s end or the pad’s end (or both?) but in the practical implementation, in public libraries with items which get circulated a lot and might be made of all sorts of different materials, in all sorts of different packaging, which might be returned in a book drop to land on anything else in the circulating collection, with anything else in the circulating collection possibly landing on it in turn, the system is far from perfect.

    I’ve read different articles about people scanning IDs, passports, etc. from a distance. Maybe our scanners are just weak and better ones exist but cost a lot more. In any case, it’s hard for me to imagine that happening with library items, either in a patron’s house or in the library on the shelves.

Comments are closed.